LGBT anti-discrimination issue complicates Jacksonville mayor's race

Jacksonville Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown is seeking conservative votes in his bid for re-election.
Jacksonville Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown is seeking conservative votes in his bid for re-election.
Published March 29, 2015

Guess where you'll find the most gay Floridians? It's not Miami. The Florida metro area with the highest percentage of residents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is actually Jacksonville (4.3 percent), followed by Miami (4.2 percent) and Tampa Bay (4.1 percent), according to Gallup polling.

So you might think it would be a no-brainer for the Jacksonville Democratic mayor to come out in favor of a proposed human rights ordinance, guaranteeing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Nope. It's proven to be one of the biggest issues in the widely watched mayoral race, but neither Democratic incumbent Alvin Brown nor challenger Lenny Curry, the former state GOP chairman, have been willing to take a position beyond not-so-boldly declaring their opposition to discrimination in general.

We've heard some Democrats lament that if Brown winds up losing the May 19 runoff election, he can blame that one issue for hurting him with progressive, Democratic-leaning voters. But it's not really so simple, of course.

Jacksonville has a consolidated city/county government, so the electorate includes not just Democratic-leaning urbanites but conservative rural voters as well. Tens of thousands of voters belong to a few politically active Baptist and Assembly of God churches, and in last week's primary election at least two City Council candidacies were believed to have been hurt by their support for the antidiscrimination ordinance. Even some supporters of a human rights ordinance acknowledge the politics of gay rights in Jacksonville is less than clear.

"Mayor Brown was in a tough situation" on the human rights ordinance, said Abel Harding, a banker and adviser to several campaigns who to used to work in the Brown administration but is neutral in the current race.

"The voting bloc he's targeted in his re-election bid — older, conservative white voters — were generally against it," Harding said. "I wasn't privy to the conversations among his advisers during the months when the bill was being debated, but most political decisions come down to who will turn out on Election Day. While polls show Jacksonville voters overwhelmingly oppose discrimination against LGBT residents and would back a measure banning it, the voters who turn out in municipal elections tend to be older and more conservative."

Brown received nearly 43 percent of the vote Tuesday, followed by 38 percent for Curry, and 17 percent for City Council member Bill Bishop, a Republican who supported the human rights ordinance and has not yet endorsed anyone in the runoff.

Quote of the week

"I don't read the New York Times, to be honest with you." That's Jeb Bush on Fox News Radio, proving that A) there are limits to Bush's no-pandering pledge and, B) when someone says "to be honest with you" they aren't necessarily. It took us about 60 seconds to find 12 New York Times citations in the footnotes of Bush's 2013 book Immigration Wars, which was cowritten by Clint Bolick.

Bush's covert mission

As head of the Miami-Dade GOP in the early 1980s, Jeb Bush was a fixer of sorts, "tooling around Dade in a silver Thunderbird," as a Miami Herald story put it. He was not shy about contacting the White House when issues arose, sometimes to the annoyance of officials there, including, it seems, James Baker, who was President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. What Bush hasn't mentioned is his role in a little-remembered secret mission to rescue an obscure sect of Jews from starvation.

In 1984, Bush heard from Miami lawyer Ron Krongold about Ethiopian Jews who had fled their homeland due to famine for a refugee camp in Sudan. Bush, according to a report a decade later in the Herald, tipped off his vice president father and the United States got involved in a top-secret mission, "Operation Moses," to rescue them.

Thousands of people were airlifted to Israel, though the U.S. involvement dealt with hundreds of those, according to news reports at the time.

Scott committee raises $710,000

Gov. Rick Scott's "Let's Get to Work" political committee has raised another $710,000 this month as it continues funding a TV and social media campaign promoting his record and accomplishments.

The committee's website shows $250,000 from the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC and the chamber's Florida Jobs PAC; $100,000 from the Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee and Floridians for A Stronger Democracy, which are tied to Associated Industries of Florida; and $100,000 from Belleair businessman Dan Doyle, whom Gov. Scott appointed to the university system's board of governors.

The committee lists about $411,000 in advertising expenses in March.

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.